THE Playhouse has survived economic downturn and a ruinous fire to remain standing tall in Dundee’s Netherkirkgate
Once the cinema with the largest stalls auditorium in Europe, the Playhouse is currently a bingo hall after its postwar cinema heyday passed. A fire ripped through the building in 1995, leaving the tower as the sole original element to survive from the 1930s.
The advertising tower has since been refurbished and the period 1970s design removed in favour of more contemporary fittings. It’s not an official attraction in the castles or lochs sense, but for cinemagoers and proud Dundonians it’s a vital part of the city’s cultural heritage that lives on under Mecca Bingo’s ownership, and is now known officially as Mecca Dundee Playhouse.
Located mere streets away from the Discovery and Tayside, the Playhouse is at 110 Netherkirkgate and is easily accessed by city centre shoppers using the Overgate shopping centre. As one of Scotland’s grandest cinemas in its day, the garguantuan auditorium could hold 2,576 people in the stalls and 1,456 in the circle areas. Ten boxes offering seating for ten completed the seating arrangements for patrons.
Arriving at the heart of the Art Deco era, the Playhouse showed its first films on 4 March, 1936 and was opened by George Green Cinemas, the operators of another larger branch in Glasgow. When the Playhouse shut down 32 years later, the building became a Mecca bingo club until a carelessly discarded cigarette burned the whole building down on 26 August 1995. By the start of this century, the tower had been given Grade B listed building status, and the ruined interior was revamped and reopened as a purpose-built bingo hall.
The original Playhouse was the brainchild of John Fairweather, who also designed the Glasgow Playhouse which opened in 1927. Joseph Emberton was responsible for the only remaining original feature - the tower - which stands at 87 feet tall and dominates the entrance. The foyer, vestibule and ballroom/tea room were all designed by Emberton and the stalls were sunk into the main auditorium. Walls lined with Corinthian columns and a large domed roof completed the grand experience.